The Citizen

SAN LORENZO, Calif. – San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is out of the race for governor leaving Attorney General Jerry Brown as the only current choice for state Democrats. So, what about Treasurer Bill Lockyer?

At a League of Women’s Voter luncheon Friday in San Lorenzo, Lockyer said “I looked into it. Sure, I looked at the polling and nobody can beat Jerry Brown right now, whether that’s good or not.”

Progressive bloggers have been urging Lockyer to enter the race for months and the sudden departure of Newsom due to tepid fundraising success and poll numbers that showed the telegenic mayor even trailing Brown in his own city, only heightened parlor chatter about who if anyone would challenge the former governor next year.

Strategists may conclude a similar fate for Lockyer, but he sounded like a candidate with a plan Friday afternoon to reform the state’s woeful fiscal structure.

Lockyer described himself as centrist on taxes and thinks the legislature needs to craft creative solutions instead of raising tax revenues, “As a practical matter, I don’t think tax increases are going to occur and Democrats go back to that solution for every problem too readily,” Lockyer said. “My own view is that we need to spend a decade working on governmental efficiency and spend the money we have well, if for no other reason to convince people that they are getting a dollars worth of value for dollars worth of tax.”

The inefficiencies in state government can be alleviate according to Lockyer and cited two examples where more bang can be squeezed out of every tax dollar. Even though the state was collecting DNA samples of felons a decade before his tenure as attorney general, most of the data was not computerized. He also mocked the failure of the Department of Motor Vehicles to streamline its service because of computer program incompatibility issues. He joked about his wish to launch tactical nuclear weapons on the DMV.

Lockyer says the last “traditional” balanced budget–where both sides of the ledger could be reconciled–was in 1997 and has been followed by reckless borrowing. “We spent money we did not have that was made up for by internal borrowing against everything that moves and external borrowing in public markets.” But, Lockyer also cautions against the perception of a deep unending California’s budget crisis by citing a structural deficit of only 3-4 percent. “Grown ups should be able to figure this out,” he said. “There is a need for adult supervision in Sacramento.”

Much of the state’s problems are structural, said Lockyer, and are attributed to the requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass nearly anything of importance. “It’s hard to get a two-thirds agreement on very divisive, controversial, expensive, so part is those requirements,” he said. The rule of two-thirds was initially designed to reduce the urge to spend, but the opposite has occurred in practice when the need to line up 67 votes has led to excessive spending and pork to entice legislators, Lockyer says.

Propositions in California, which only need a simple majority to pass, have allowed, he said, other interests to bypass the legislature and enact spending measures without saying where the money will come from. Believes reforms will be push forward in the next year to remedy such problems.
“It’s hard to get a two-thirds agreement on very divisive, controversial, expensive, so part is those requirements.” Representatives from activists groups Repair California, who favor forming a Constitutional Convention, and California Forwards both laid out visions to reform the business of state government that are likely to be both on the November 2010 ballot.

On the subject of San Leandro Hospital, Lockyer said, “I’m with those who agree with keeping services at the hospital,” but the man elected to hold the state’s purse strings did not see subsidies for it in the near future and punctuated it with a simple, “no.”

PHOTO: California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer speaks to the League of Women Voters Friday afternoon in San Lorenzo.

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